Old Mission Dam Revisited


After a week of 12-14 hour days poring over spreadsheets, building PowerPoint presentations, and going through innumerable “What If” drills, the poor little monkey had had enough!  So, after a Saturday afternoon nap while waiting for the sun to move closer to the horizon, Kongo grabbed his camera, slapped on the 70-200 lens, and headed for one of his favorite spots close to home:  The Old Mission Dam in Mission Trails Park.


The Mission Dam was built in the early 1800s by friars from the Spanish church at Mission San Diego de Alcala as a water source for the mission and to provide irrigation for the indians who lived near the settlement.  It was the first major irrigation project on what is now the West Coast of the United States.  Originally the dam was 247 feet long and thirteen feet thick.  It was constructed of granite boulders, plentiful in the area, and held together with limestone mortar.  The water flow was controlled by a wooden gate 12-feet wide that could be raised and lowered.  There was also a water wheel which acted as the power source for a grist mill situated with the dam.

Today the wood gate is no longer there but you can still see the guides where it was fitted.

The dam captured and stored water from the San Diego River, which runs well in the winter rainy months, but tends to go dry in the long hot summers.  The reservoir created by the Mission Dam provided a reliable year-round water source for the first settlements in San Diego.

_MG_7462 _MG_7506Today the dam is part of the San Diego Mission Trails Regional Park, one of the largest urban parks in the United States.  It is a popular site for hikers, strollers, and joggers with easy access to main roads in San Diego.

Photographers flock to this area in the late afternoon because it adds a scenic backdrop to take family portraits, engagement photos, and offers great wildlife opportunities and landscape scenes.  The monkey has even seen intrepid wedding parties traipsing down to get their images captured sitting on the dam.

_MG_7521 _MG_7525 _MG_7539 _MG_7542 _MG_7467 _MG_7483The area around the dam is filled with live oak, sycamore trees, and native scrub sage and other plants.  Kongo frequently sees herons, egrets, and all manner of ducks but yesterday there were only a couple of old coots swimming around.  There’s a jumbled pile of granite boulders downstream from the dam which kids like to explore and climb about.  Jogging trails are wide and flat.

Warning signs alert visitors that mountain lions are commonly seen in the area.  Kongo’s answer to that is to always travel with at least one other person that you can out run.  You don’t have to be faster than a mountain lion, just faster than your partner.  That’s a little jungle tip from the monkey.

You can get to Mission Dam from Father Junipero Serra Road which intersects Mission Gorge Road near the boundary between San Diego and Santee.

Travel safe.  Have fun.

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